Security reviewed after Blair assault

Visitors in Commons hit prime minister with condoms of cornstarch

May 20, 2004|By COX NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - Protesters in the British House of Commons hurled condoms full of purple cornstarch at Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday, injuring no one but prompting an urgent examination of security.

Two men, ages 50 and 36, were arrested. An organization called Fathers 4 Justice, which advocates greater child custody rights for men, claimed responsibility.

The attack followed security lapses at Windsor Castle and the Big Ben bell tower and was made weeks after Parliament received an intelligence alert that it might be attacked with anthrax or ricin.

Officials think Britain, the United States' strongest ally in the war in Iraq, could be a particular target for terrorists.

Against that background, the attack caused alarm and provoked questions about whether it could it have been fatal and, if the contents had been poison rather than cornstarch, whether members of Parliament rushing from the chamber could have contaminated other people.

"This was a serious incident," said government minister Peter Hain.

Blair was midway through his weekly parliamentary question-and-answer session when shouting was heard from the gallery, in balconies above the chamber.

He looked up, and when he turned back toward the dispatch box where he speaks, an object hit him in the back and exploded in a cloud of purple powder.

Blair was unruffled and appeared to be about to resume his answer to a question when the speaker of the House called a halt to the session.

The chamber was evacuated.

Investigators tested the powder and found it to be harmless, and the House reconvened 70 minutes later.

A man tricked his way into Windsor Castle, the country residence of Queen Elizabeth, Monday by pretending to be a police officer. In March, two people protesting the war in Iraq climbed the Big Ben tower.

Security in the House of Commons was increased recently.

Most visitors must pass through metal detectors and have their purses and briefcases X-rayed.

A transparent screen was put up last month to guard against the possibility that something might be thrown into the chamber. The screen does not extend in front of the VIP section.

The two men arrested were the guests of a member of the House of Lords, Baroness Golding. She said she was "deeply distressed" by the attack and offered her "unreserved apologies."

Fathers 4 Justice said the attack was one of a series of protests it has planned in the weeks leading up to Father's Day on June 20.

"They were fighting for equal rights for dads," Matt O'Connor, a spokesman for the organization, said of the men who were arrested.

"Purple is the international color of equality."

Mark Oaten, a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats on home security matters, called for an immediate review of security.

"I am absolutely convinced what happened today was a serious security breach, and it could have put the prime minister's life at risk," he said.

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